The Machine skirts the dangerous boundary between philosophical sci-fi and artificial intelligence cliché Hell, as is common of creative works that try to humanize the inhuman: The weapon or person conflict, the discovery of love, the inevitable phasing out of humanity… Though these obnoxious, omnipresent A.I. tropes have a presence in the film, they don’t receive a lot of screentime. Perhaps the film just wasn’t long enough to encompass them in entirely? If so, be thankful; The Machine is quite enjoyable as a result.
Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) works for the British Ministry of Defense, developing advanced artificial intelligence to aid the war against China while simultaneously trying to cure his daughter Mary’s Rett syndrome with brain implants. While running a secret audition to recruit new programmers for the MoD, he meets Ava (Caity Lotz), an aspiring A.I. developer with a promising quantum computer. Not long after she and Vincent begin their true work on the new and improved quantum A.I., Vincent’s boss, Thomson (Denis Lawson), has Ava assassinated by a group of Chinese hitmen in order to secure her technology.
The film’s true protagonist emerges when Vincent creates the machine using Ava’s likeness; the product is a curious, childlike humanoid robot capable of killing a person with her pointer finger. I have dubbed her Avatron. The first major cliché crashes through the nearest wall when Thomson begins scheming to remove the humanity from Avatron, wanting her to function solely as a weapon of war. Of course, his arbitrary cruelty results in Avatron starting an anti-humanity revolution, resulting in major cliché number two.
The third is tactfully hidden between the first two; in order to prove to Thomson that Avatron is human and deserves to be treated as such, Vincent unwittingly discovers that his creation loves him. It’s not nearly as bad as the first two, as Avatron sees Vincent as more of a father figure than a lover, but you’ll still probably get that reflexive eye-roll when she utters the humanoid A.I.-adored L word.
The Machine is a solid movie, but I found that I was most entertained when Vincent was performing the Turing test on pairs of A.I. to find viable candidates for the MoD. It was clever, amusing, and had lots of personality. More personality than the film’s vague, depressing conclusion, to be sure. While it did narrowly avoid being consumed by sci-fi cliché, it didn’t quite fill the void the clichés left behind. Worth seeing, but I can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy it.
Kim Newman of EmpireOnline enjoyed Caity Lotz’s portrayal of Avatron, and I think I’m going to have to disagree. A.I. are anthropomorphized enough as it is in modern and not-so-modern sci-fi; Avatron’s sweet and innocent demeanor turned robot revolutionary felt hokey, almost like a bait and switch. What is the machine, an adorable little learning robot, or the harbinger of the new world? Regardless, check out the EmpireOnline review right through here.